While The Kama Sutra has the reputation of being a manual of sex positions, it's quite more. This ancient tome, arguably one of the oldest guides to dating and love between men and women, is as concerned with relationships as with physical mixing and matching. The Art of the Kama Sutra by Mallanaga Vatsyayana: The New Illustrated Edition of the Classic Indian Guide to Sexual Pleasure is an interesting historical document that still has plenty of relevance today.

The Art of the Kama Sutra is not a visually explicit book. (There are plenty of other "Kama Sutra" versions out there that are little more than collections of positions.) The illustrations here are pieces of ancient Indian art, color photographs of nature and statues, and black-and-white photos of people embracing. The Art of the Kama Sutra begins with a discussion of Dharma (the spiritual), Artha (the worldly/material), and Kama (pleasure), and how all three must be in balance for a harmonious life.

Sexuality is soon covered, often in a scientific way. There are discussions of pairings, based on the sizes (hare, bull, and horse) of the man's lingam and the sizes (deer, mule, and elephant) of the woman's yoni. While there are some positions covered, there are also types of activity (who is more dominant, types of biting and scratching), how each sex should attract the other (men are more aggressive, women play hard to get), the sixty-four arts to be studied, how to get a wife, how to have affairs, how a wife should behave, how she should get on with other wives of her husband, aphrodisiacs and sexual devices, and how courtesans should act to benefit themselves in both love and wealth.

The Art of the Kama Sutra demonstrates that, while some information certainly belongs more in ancient times than today (anyone want to learn fixing stained glass in a floor, or sharing betel leaves to attract a woman?), some truths are universal. Many (most?) of our readers are not in polygamous situations, but the information on courting, the importance (for better and worse) of passion, and how relationships involve a certain degree of planning and subtlety are true today as when this tome was written. The entries are in sutras of a few sentences, and at times the phrasing feels a little stiff: "...as variety is necessary in love, so love is to be produced by means of variety. It is on this account that courtesans, who are well acquainted with various ways and means, become so desirable, for if variety is sought in all the arts and amusements, such as archery and others, how much more should it be sought after in the science of love."

The end of The Art of the Kama Sutra advices, "This work is not intended to be used merely as an instrument for satisfying ou desires," and this translation provides far more than carnal instruction. This book sometimes has parts that doesn't work today, but more often it offers information for men and women that is as relevant today as when it was written.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch

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